My Ordeal At The Hands Of Officials Of The Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) BRT Monitoring And Enforcement Unit

By Hassan Taiwo Soweto 

A passionate call for the dismantling of the insidious, unfair and unjust architecture of exploitation erected by the Lagos State government in the name of tackling traffic offence

My name is Hassan Taiwo Soweto. Yesterday Thursday 16 September 2021, I had a most unfortunate and unfair experience with the above-named agency – the BRT Monitoring and Enforcement Unit of LAMATA.

The day started without a premonition of the unpleasant ordeal awaiting me. But then it was meant to be a politically busy day. Little did I know I would spend the entire day as an unwilling guest of a quasi-legal, exploitative and revenue generating arm the Lagos State government cleverly disguised as a traffic violation monitoring unit.

At around 9:15am, I drove through the Lagos Abeokuta expressway on the way to Iyana Ipaja to see someone. I came through charity road, drove under the Abule Egba bridge at Oja Oba to  connect the expressway leading to Iyana Ipaja. At exactly katangua, after the Abule Egba bridge, I suddenly found myself on an unmarked BRT lane. For those who know this area, they would understand how it is possible to make this mistake. This is because from the Abule Egba bridge looking ahead, there is nothing to warn an oncoming motorist that there is a BRT lane. Nothing whatsoever! This is especially the case for someone like me who is unfamiliar with that road because I had studiously avoided using it since the construction of the Abule Egba bridge because of my fear of the legendary traffic at the Iyana Ipaja end of it.

Driving through that expressway as someone unfamiliar with the new division of the road, you are likely to consider the right hand side as the service lane especially as it is always full of yellow buses picking and dropping passengers and consider the left as the freeway. This is because of the absence of any signage. Shooting out from under the Abule Egba bridge and as early as 9am when I expect the road to be free, I ofcourse thought that the right hand side was the service lane. I veered towards the left and floored the accelerator. By the time I realized my error, I was already a few meters into the BRT lane. Infact I matched the brake so violently when I discovered my error but there was nothing I could do especially as the divider was quite high. I therefore tried to reverse. But by this time, the officials of the Lagos State government (Some in Man ‘O’ War uniforms and a few others in police uniform and an assortment of other elements in mufti) who were already lying in wait and hiding pounced on me. They took over the car and immediately charged me for committing a traffic offence. I started begging them to be lenient with me because I didn’t deliberately enter the BRT lane but for the absence of any signage. It was 9:15am, there was no traffic (whether heavy or light) so why would I for goodness sake willingly drive on a BRT lane but for the absence of clear warning signs?

All of my pleas fell on deaf ears. Infact to make matters worse, when I introduced myself to one of them as an activist who would not deliberately break the law, he flared up and said it was my type who were always exposing them and putting them on social media. Therefore they have to take me to their office. When I asked for where their office is, they said Ketu. I started another round of pleading because where I was going to was Iyana Ipaja and the person I wanted to visit was already waiting. They refused to listen to me. Instead they drove the car and myself down to ketu. What is interesting is that from Abule Egba to Ikeja along, the officials of the agency who arrested me drove on the BRT lane – the very offence they arrested me for!

By the time we got to their office at Ketu, they slammed me with a fine of N70, 000 (an amount twice the National Minimum wage)! When I complained about the pricey nature of the fine, they asked me to go to the mobile court to complain. I was to find out later that both the agency and the mobile court are acting in concert. For instance, I didn’t get to the mobile court until 2:05pm. This was because I had to wait for hours at the premises of the LAMATA office as many comrades and friends who heard of my predicament were making several efforts to assist me. 

By the time I got to the mobile court at Bolade Oshodi, I was told the court was no more sitting and that I should come back the next day. This was at 2:05pm! Then when I interviewed a couple that had their car impounded at LAMATA but had gone earlier than me to the mobile Court to seek a reduction in their fine, I realised that all they got was a N10, 000 reduction in their fine of N70, 000. Infact they were so bitter given all the time they wasted hoping that they would get some substantial relief at the mobile court. This confirms that the court and the agency are working together. They both have daily revenue targets so that any talk of law and offences are just formalities. What this meant for me was that even if I waited till the next day, I may not get more than the same N10, 000 reduction from the Mobile Court. Meanwhile in my own case, I would most likely incur additional demurrage charges if my car stayed till the next day which could mean that I might end up still paying up to the original N70k fine or even more.

Disappointed and troubled, I rushed back to the LAMATA office at ketu. Please note that I was gone from the LAMATA office for just about 2 hours maximum. Yet by the time I got back there, I met the tire of my car deflated. It was like a development from outer space. This was a car driven into the compound with fully functioning 4 tires and yet just 2 hours after I left the premises, a tire was totally down not just slightly deflated.

Although, interestingly, all the while I was at the LAMATA office earlier in the day, I had noticed that nearly all impounded vehicles in the premises had their tires deflated. To make matters worse, almost all the deflated tires were tires located at the back of the cars and on the right hand side. Only a few had two tires deflated. But when it got to my case, it seems the spirit that deflate tires decided to change his pattern. It was the front tire that was deflated instead of the back tire. Please note that there was no such deflation before I left the premises to go to the mobile court at Oshodi. But lo and behold, I also noticed that another car, a Lexus 330 Jeep that was impounded a few hours after my car, also had its tire deflated. This was a clean and relatively new car with new tires. Yet 2 hours ago, the tires were fit and proper and 2 hours after, a tire was down.

Immediately I realized that there was an exploitative racket going on. Almost as soon as I realized this, I also realized that there was a resident in-house vulcaniser in the compound of the LAMATA office – a big bellied hulk of a man with a superficial air of importance and unconcern you will never find in any vulcaniser genuinely hustling to make ends meet. His price was N500 non-negotiable for any tire that needs to be inflated. At the conservative rate of 10 vehicles in day, the vulcaniser is making nothing less than N150k in a month.

But before I conclude on the resident vulcaniser, it is important to expose the process of payment at the LAMATA office. By the time I got back to the office, I had realised that the only way out for me was to cough out the outrageous N70k demanded by the agency as fine. Otherwise the car would stay there for days gathering demurrage costs and under the exploitative discretion of the ever-powerful vulcaniser who is likely to deflate one tire for each additional day. This is aside the possibility that the car could be auctioned after a few days. I decided to seek a loan from a friend. By the time the agency presented me with an account details, it turned out that it was private account. Here is the account detail I paid 70k into:  Account Name: Elinado Global Services Ltd, account no: 7407022010, Bank name: FCMB. This shows that the Lagos State government is not acting alone in this criminal enterprise and that all the exploitative activities are meant for the purpose of not just generating revenue for the stage but also enriching a section of the capitalist elite which must include members of the ruling party, the private sector, local enforcers and rogues of all shapes and sizes.

I think it’s necessary to reproduce my conversation with the resident vulcaniser because I think it captures the soulless nature of this criminal enterprise. As I appeared from the office where I paid the 70k fine, I could see the vulcaniser was already waiting for me at the gate crouching like a boa constrictor on a plastic chair. His demeanor gave away the impression that he is aware of his power. No one ever unfortunate to have their cars impounded in that compound can leave without requesting his services. I approached cautiously straining not to betray the stormy anger swirling in my head and the following conversation ensured:

Me: Good afternoon Vulga, please can you help check my car tires? I think something is wrong with one of them.

Him (in a coarse voice): it’s Five hundred naira

Me: Haha, you havnt even seen the tires before deciding on the amount to charge me. What if the tire got punctured by a nail or something?

Him: I know what is wrong with your tire and the solution is five hundred Naira.

Despite being livid with anger, I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. His response, with all its bravado, captures the “take it or leave it” attitude of the criminal Lagos State ruling elite who designed this architecture of exploitation called the Lagos State traffic law. They don’t care. As far as they are concerned, you either accept this exploitation or you leave Lagos. But here is where they are wrong. I will fight this to the best of my ability.

To be clear, my grouse isn’t that there should no sanctions against traffic violators. My argument is that traffic offense shouldn’t be treated like a capital offense, there should be room for pardon of first offenders, clear road signage to prevent innocent and normal non-law breaking citizens from violating the traffic laws, the law should be implemented with a view to actually discourage traffic offense and not in the punitive way it is done whereby the fundamental motive appears to be to gather revenue for both the government and private interests. In addition, nothing justifies a N70, 000 fine that is twice the National Minimum wage! Nothing whatsoever. Also, who are the owners of Elinado Global Services Ltd – the private account that all the fines are paid to? And last but not the least, the pot bellied resident vulcaniser in the office of LAMATA is symbolic of all that is stinking and foul in the Lagos State BRT enforcement and monitoring unit.

I will be submitting a petition to the Lagos State government and relevant authorities by next week making clear demands on this issue. I urge all those who are either victims or are concerned about this kind of wanton exploitation to join me.

Soweto

Friday 17 September 2021

Lagos

%d bloggers like this: